Brooklyn, NY – Amid Ringing Church Bells And Muslim Calls To Prayer, Bed-Stuy Synagogue Ticketed For Shabbos Siren

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    Loud Shabbas alarm is seen, on top of a Shul / Synagogue at the corner of Myrtle and Bedford avenues. Jewish section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY. Oct. 26, 2016 (photo by Stefano Giovannini/VINnews.com)Brooklyn, NY – A pre-Shabbos siren atop a Bedford-Stuyvestant synagogue has been raising alarm bells of another sort as neighbors have been complaining of blasts that far exceed the city’s noise control code.

    The siren in question was mounted atop the Bais Yaakov Nechemia synagogue on Myrtle Avenue after a recent expansion. Neighbors at an adjacent six story apartment building at 144 Spencer Street have complained that the horn, located on the roof of the three story structure, is right outside their windows.

    “It leaves me with a ringing in my ears and headaches that have continued for two days,” resident Aaron Graubart told the Gothamist blog. “I work from home and I now have to be out of my apartment on Fridays in order to avoid the sound. The siren is literally forcing me out of my home on Friday afternoons.”

    Residents of 144 Spencer Street say they have measured the siren’s decibel level at 106, which is more than double the city’s legal limit and that they have made numerous calls to 311 to report the noise.

    “All the calls amounted to the same thing,” said resident Robert Prichard. “I’d get an answer back that the police assessed the situation and felt no action was needed.”

    Prichard fared slightly better with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. Two sound readings taken by the agency in August outside the synagogue measured in the 90 degree range while indoor sound measurements taken in Graubart’s apartment exceeded 100 decibels, a level roughly equivalent to that of a passing train passing or a jackhammer, according to a noise code pamphlet distributed by the DEP.

    Warnings issued to the synagogue by the DEP resulted in a single week’s silence from the siren, but full volume blasts resumed the following Friday afternoon, said Prichard. Donning a jacket, black pants, a white shirt and a yarmulka, Prichard approached the synagogue’s rabbi directly to discuss the problem and was told that any decision to lower the volume had to come from the Satmar Rebbe.

    Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg said that the synagogue was ticketed for its siren, which sounds twice for 90 seconds on Friday before the start of Shabbos. Rabbi Niederman noted that New York City Local Law 113 specifically states that “organs, bells, chimes or other similar instruments” that are used “from on or within any church, synagogue, mosque or other house of worship” are exempted from local noise ordinances.

    “It’s sad,” Rabbi Niederman told VIN News. “We told the inspector that this is part of a religious practice and we are exempt. We are not a church and are doing it less often than a church and certainly less often than a mosque.”
    loud alarm from Shabbos, on top of a Shul / Synagogue at the corner of Myrtle and Bedford avenues. Jewish section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY. photo by Stefano Giovannini
    Rabbi Niederman said a hearing on the matter is scheduled for next month and he hopes to be able to reach a compromise that will be acceptable both to the neighbors and to the synagogue as soon as possible.

    “We are ready to turn down the volume or to shorten the sirens to provide the least disturbance but unfortunately our efforts so far to work with that neighbor have fallen on deaf ears,” said Rabbi Niederman. “We look forward to working with the city, with the neighbors and with the community board if they want to get involved and work out an amicable solution.”

    Assemlyman Joseph Lentol said that he is unaware of any calls to his office from constituents who are bothered by the Shabbos siren.

    “We have not received any complaints on this issue,” said Lentol. “However, as we do with all complaints from constituents, we explore various avenues to help in mitigating the problem. This can range from working with city agencies to reaching out directly to the involved stakeholders.”

    Bais Yaakov Nechemia is not the first Jewish institution to find itself at the center of a Shabbos siren controversy.

    According to The Daily News, Yeshiva Toras Emes in Midwood was slapped with five noise code violations a dozen years ago for a weekly Shabbos siren. Lawyers for the school argued that religious organizations are exempt from city noise regulations but the yeshiva ultimately agreed to lower the decibel level on the siren which, according to The New York Times, has a sound radius of two miles. Sentry Siren, the manufacturer of the 40V2T siren that is mounted atop the yeshiva, boasts that it is the largest omni-directional siren currently in production.

    The use of a high volume sound for religious purposes is not unique to Judaism.

    “The churches have bells. Jews have horns. And we have call to prayer,” Assistant Imam Osman Adam of the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque told the Bed-Stuy Patch. The mosque is located just one mile away from Bais Yaakov Nechemia.

    The Muslim call to prayer known as the hazan can sometimes come as early as 5:25 AM and is repeated four more times throughout the day.

    “I’ll be doing something and I’ll get a heart attack when it comes on the speakers,” said Fidel Elmashi, who sells toys and novelties across the Fulton Street mosque.

    In East New York, 156 noise complaints were filed against the Masjid Al-Aman mosque, whose hazan can be heard for a 20 block radius.

    Kobir Chowdhury, a member of the mosque, said that the five daily calls to prayer between sunrise and sunset are a necessity for Muslims and described the sound as “melodious.”

    “It is a very, very soothing sound,” Chowdhury told Gothamist. “It doesn’t disturb anybody if you listen to it and if you know the meaning of it.”

    For East New York resident Jennifer Pinto, the hazan is anything but tranquil.

    “They have to have some consideration for us,” said Pinto. “It’s too noisy. Too, too noisy. You don’t get used to it because you have no idea when it’s going to happen.”

    Pinto advocated for the volume to be lowered for the calls to prayer.

    “It’s too loud,” said Pinto. “Do it for their audience. Do it for their congregation. But we don’t need to hear it on Atlantic Avenue.”

    Ultimately, Masjid Al-Aman turned down the volume at the DEP’s request. The DEP elected not to fine the mosque because of the relatively short duration of each hazan.

    Church bells have also received their share of complaints, with one Brooklyn man launching a campaign of his own against the St. Thomas Aquinas church in Marine Park.

    John Russo collected signatures from 58 neighbors asking the church to lower the volume of the church bells which ring daily, every hour on the hour from 9 AM to 7 PM.

    “It’s too much,” Russo told The Daily News. “I hear it every hour of every day. I don’t need to know what time it is. I’ve got a watch.”

    According to Russo, the bells are so loud they drown out conversation. The former window display designer at Macy’s used his artistic talents to decorate his lawn with a variety of hand painted signs expressing his frustration.

    “I’m sure to go to heaven. Did my time in hell with the bells,” read one sign.

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    32 COMMENTS

    1. So – in the alterheim, how’d they handle this? Four bochrim on the roof blowing shofar N, S, E, and W x minutes before shkiyah? The Shabbos siren is a luxury; not a necessity – and certainly not a substitute for one’s own awareness. Mrs. Eller’s article notes that churches and mosques are regarded differently than we are. Welcome to the facts. This is not our home. It’s theirs. There are more important issues to be verbal about – such as the UNESCO declaration re: Har Habayis.

    2. ““We are ready to turn down the volume or to shorten the sirens to provide the least disturbance but unfortunately our efforts so far to work with that neighbor have fallen on deaf ears,” said Rabbi Niederman. “

      Wow talk about irony

    3. Every one of these shuls, Yeshivot, schools, churches, and mosques should be good neighbors and lower all of their noise, volume, and stridency—-both spoken, vocal, and amplified–be a shachen tov to all of your neighbors!! דמד

    4. I am unaware of any 100 decibel sirens mounted on any shul or beis medrash in the alte heim to alert yidden of the z’man for shabbos licht benchen. In fact, we’ve gotten by for thousand of years without such a siren. If these ehrliche Satmar chassidim don’t know how to tell time or look out the window, than they have bigger problems that are beyond the control of rav Zalman.

    5. One of the most stupid and biggest Chillul Hashems ever. How many of us have just kept working and completely forgotten it was almost Shabbos and then only realized after Shkiah? Absolutely no-one. I would be livid if another religion had a siren as loud as the one in Crown Heights near me. And why does it have to go for so long? Absolute madness.

      • In my neighborhood in Israel, the loudspeaker (which is VERY loud) plays Shabbos tunes. I look forward to hearing them every week, it is nice to go into Shabbos to the sound of kids’ voices. Maybe try that?

    6. Those of you who are not women do not understand that sometimes erev shabbos can be so hectic we do not even have time to LOOK at the time. The siren is a lifesaver, reminding us about 15 minutes before licht to wrap up what we are doing and light on time. I am in Lower Manhattan and hear it faintly, if they lower the volume i probably won’t hear it at all.

      • Oy…nebuch…chas v’challilah…what would poor ole you do if you lived in a community without a siren…as most of us do?

        Ah…chiddush – you’d have to keep track of the time!

      • If you can hear this in lower Manhattan, then it is definitely (and deafeningly) too loud! Set your own alarm for 15 minutes before Shabbos; millions of people do not have to hear the Satmar siren.

    7. Pick your battles. Yidden in this country enjoy freedoms quite unprecedented in our other Galuyos! Have your wristwatch, alarm clock, cell phone or home phone service alert you to candle lighting time. It’s really quite unnecessary to have a siren to Herald in the Sabbath. Shabbat Shalom!

    8. Dear Sirs I don’t live in Brooklyn, but when I want to know Shabbat time for candles, and when it actually starts in my area, I go to the CHABAD.org and they tell me what I have to know in zone, state, area, etc. Don’t need sirens all I need is a computer and a watch. Thank you CHABAD

    9. ‘ “The churches have bells. Jews have horns. And we have call to prayer,” …Assistant Imam Osman Adam.’
      Jews have horns…
      HORNS!
      We should sue him for racist libel!

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